Polychain leads ZK chip startup Cysic's $6 million raise

Quick Take

  • Zero-knowledge (ZK) hardware startup Cysic closed a $6 million seed round.
  • The round is led by Polychain Capital and sees participation from investors including Hashkey and ABCDE.

Cysic, a zero-knowledge (ZK) hardware startup founded in August of last year, raised $6 million in a seed round led by Polychain Capital.

The seed round closed in December 2022, said Leo Fan, co-founder of Cysic, in an interview with The Block. Other investors include Hashkey, SNZ Holding, ABCDE and Web3.com foundation, said the company in a release.

A ZK proof is a cryptographic technique that confirms whether a statement is true or false without revealing that statement’s contents. 

Cysic aims to provide hardware acceleration solutions for ZK proof protocols. The startup already has 12 ecosystem partners including Scroll, Nil Foundation and Hyper Oracle.

Accelerating ZK protocols

Within two months of launching, the Cysic team developed a FPGA prototype of multi-scalar multiplication (MSM), which is an important component within ZK protocols. An FPGA is a type of programmable hardware, which is akin to CPU and GPU chips.

Running MSM on a CPU can be incredibly power and time intensive, which is why Cysic focused on trying to accelerate this component with FPGAs. The startup is also working with supply chain vendors to build  highly customized FPGA servers, Fan said.

"That initial design is already two to five times faster than the state-of-art [implementations]," Fan said. "That's  PipeMSM and CycloneMSM projects from Ingonyama  and Jump Crypto, they were in the space longer than us but our initial data is faster than these two groups."

Developing ZKP chips

The startup raised the initial $2 million of the seed funding within 10 days from personal connections to build out the team and get the necessary hardware, Fan said. They then used the initial results to secure further funding from investors. Its ecosystem partners will start integrating the FPGA solution in the first half of this year, Fan said.

"Our end goal is to do the ZKP chip," Fan said. "But before that, we have to rely on the FPGA solution we have right now."

To integrate the FPGA solution ecosystem partners will make API calls, which it will eventually charge for access to. The startup also sees potential revenue options in setting up servers for some businesses that want private infrastructure as well selling the chip, which is still in the early stages of development.

"We do the design [for the printed circuit board] and we asked the supply chain vendors to manufacture this PCB based on our design," Fan said. "Our PCB basically can produce much more powerful computing resource than the normal PCB and combining these two aspects, the engineering part and the supply chain vendors, we can deliver much [better] performance than all other players in the space."

The rise of ZK

The funds from the raise will be used to expand the team and to continue to work on developing the hardware solutions. There is currently 12 people on the team, Fan said.

"Cysic are successfully pressing ahead to make many bulky ZKP feasible in a client setting," said Luke Pearson, partner at Polychain Capital in the release. "Their team of experts have all the necessary complementary skills to bring forth a world we all envision, where proving systems are hastened along tailored hardware, to bring a well-scaled web3 to the masses."

Cysic isn't the only ZK startup that Polychain has backed as of late. It also led raises for ZK tech developer Nil Foundation, which secured $22 million, and Ethereum scaling startup Scroll, which raised $30 million. The average check size for seed stages in January was $5 million, according to data from The Block Research.

Blockchain funding data January

Blockchain funding data for January 2023 from The Block Research

This story has been updated with additional details on the funding process

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